This essay will talk about sociological positivism strain theory by Merton and differential association by Sutherland.
The strain theory is a sociological theory in Criminology. Merton explained deviancy and said it is a very hard for society to achieve the societal goals. These goals were classed as the American dream which is wealth, freedom, ownership and prosperity. Everyone wants to achieve these goals however due to deprivation or other personal issues people are not able to attain these goals. For example, if a person wanted to become a professor in criminology but couldn’t because it takes at least about 10 years of teaching to become one and a person must pass many degrees to become it. “The strain theory developed from the functionalist perspective that human behaviour determined by social structure. Robert Merton was a leading social strain theorist who concentrated on explaining deviancy.” (Joyce 20170
Therefore, people may buy this professor qualification the illegitimate way. These are reasons why people can turn towards crime. Another example is a person from a lower social class might want to go to university and get a degree but due to their social class they can’t afford it therefore the person may turn towards crime. An example of a personal issue is a people loved one might die therefore due to them grieving they might not able to complete their degree.
The middle class have better opportunities for work and have better education. This is due to their income. This can lead on to the American dream meaning they have a better chance of achieving this. A working class may see this in a different way as they may feel to get this American dream they can’t achieve it the legitimate way therefore this why they may turn towards crime.
Merton created a deviance typology:
Ritualism: This is about a person accepting the society’s success goals such as cultural goals. Those who can’t achieve these goals but still try to attain these goals no matter what. However, these people still have feelings of despair because they know the reality that they can’t achieve these goals, so they hide from the reality. Merton suggests that when society can’t attain these goals then it comes stressful as a strain. “Ritualism is a concept developed by American sociologist Robert K. Merton as a part of his structural strain theory. It refers to the common practice of going through the motions of daily life even though one does not accept the goals or values that align with those practices.” https://www.thoughtco.com/ritualism-3026527 Some people in this category may still challenge some of these goals. He believed that ritualism occurs when a person rejects the norms of society goals but they still won’t turn towards deviancy because the person still carries on trying to attain these goals.
Innovation: This is when a person can’t achieve society’s success goals due to their economic issues therefore, they pursue this in illegitimate ways for example a person buying a degree from a software. They use criminal methods to get their way in. another example would be a person plagrising someone’s work. A crime that would be under this category is white collar crime.” using socially unapproved or unconventional means to obtain culturally approved goals. Example: dealing drugs or stealing to achieve financial security. https://revisesociology.com/2016/04/16/mertons-strain-theory-deviance/” This is associated with fraud and done by respectable members of the society. Certain businesses may have low profit or may not be doing well so they may do this to attain a good business and good profit.
Retreatism is when a person rejects society’s success goals. In this category people will turn towards crime and deviancy.” retreatism you reject this culturally acceptable goal. You might adopt a different goal like religion. Furthermore, you reject the institutionalized means to achieve the cultural goal of the former. https://www.quora.com/In-sociology-what-is-Retreatism The crime that will be in this category are drugs. People in this stage tend to get depressed and have no money for their financial needs therefore they turn towards crime to get money and feed their family with it.
Rebellion is when is incapable of achieving society’s success goals therefore they may turn towards crime. In this stage people get depressed and may turn towards violence due to aggression. They may replace these goals with other goals they are able to achieve.
Evaluation: The advantages of this theory are that it has evidence that strains are related to crime, it influences other theorists, explains how individual adjust to social strain and the disadvantages are that not everyone commits crime even though they may have strain it doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn towards crime, it doesn’t take an individualistic approach, ignores gang crime and it doesn’t explain why people isolate themselves from the culture goals.
Differential association: This is a theory made by Edwin Sutherland. He believed that no one is born a criminal therefore they must be learning with others to perform a criminal act. Such as if a person commits murder and another person would have interactions with them and they would see exactly how they would do it as murder can get very messy, so they would need to be organised with this certain crime. This can be explained to show how crime breeds amongst specific social groups and communities and it explains why released prisoners have high offending rates. Prisoners may gain knowledge of other specific crimes through observational learning. Therefore, this is a learning process. This theory looks at white collar crime and how it could be applied to the lower social status group. The differential association stated that the methods of committing crime, rationalisations and motives of attitudes which were favourable towards disobeying the law were aspect of a normal learning process. According to et al “for Sutherland criminal behaviour is learned behaviour and arises when someone is in an environment where it can be absorbed. He considered the way which criminal behaviour might become an individual’s normal behaviour is that it would be learnt” (Case etal, 2017).
Sutherland also suggested that people are nurtured through criminality therefore he means those parents who are offenders and feel it is acceptable to steal then their children will most likely become criminals. He also believed criminals learn criminal behaviour from personal groups. Also, he believes that it is the process of communication. He believes there are no biology features which contribute to a person committing a crime.
Also, Sutherland suggests that we can get influenced through the media and by our role models. For example, if a child watches horror movie where there are murder cases in them then they may be likely to turn towards this crime. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if someone watches horror movies or engages with other offenders it doesn’t mean they will become an offender as well, but it does mean they do have criminal resources.
Sutherland believes that the specific direction of motives and attitudes are learned from definitions from legal codes such as favourable and unfavourable to the violation of law. “These ratio of these definitions or views of crime-whether criminal or conventional influences are stronger in a person’s life-determines whether the person embraces crime as an acceptable way of life” (Lilly et al, 2015).
These are principles of differential association. “Thus, Sutherland contended that any person would inevitably meet definitions of favourable to violation of law “and with definitions of unfavourable to violation of law.” (lilly,2015) This suggest that it attributes to both anti criminal and pro criminal associations. If a person becomes a criminal, then they will associate themselves with criminal patterns due to isolation from anti criminal patterns. Our culture can be a conflict to for example people who are southern don’t pronounce the r in a word because other southern don’t therefore this proposition of differential association means that associations are neutral, and crime has no little or no effect on the criminal behaviour. Majority of the time this is naturally normal for the person as some people adhere and accept these legal codes. This is due to their norms and values meaning the way they have been brought up. Those who disregard these legal codes will turn towards crime. To them stealing or committing other crimes are a norm for them.
Differential association may differ in duration, frequency, intensity and intensity. Evaluation: A strength of this theory is the contribution it made towards changing people’s views about the origins of criminal behaviour. It can explain why people are engaged towards crime and how it can be learned through personal interactions. This theory can be explain why rates of crime were higher in certain areas in England: Where groups are organising crime such as in slums. The definitions of favouring legal violations flourish. Therefore, this suggests people are likely to learn to differentially associate with criminal values. This theory disregards neo-Lombroso theory which suggests that people are born criminals. This theory doesn’t take social interactions into account whereas Sutherlands helps to explain the causes of crime and personal experiences. Also, it is a very powerful theory as it helps people to understand crime for example Sutherland helped us to understand that those who are living within a conventional safe neighbourhood will most likely stay away from crime, attend church services and be part of football games whereas in a unconventional neighbourhood people will more than likely turn towards crime and will learn how to commit theft. Also, Sutherland looked everyone from different backgrounds and how they can all commit crime, so it shows he was never biased in his work.
A criticism of this theory would be it is very simple therefore it can’t explain all crimes such as crime as a passion. It doesn’t take into account social factors and individual factors. Also, Sutherland didn’t provide a scientific framework to predict future offending.
Sutherland also did research on white collar crimes. He believed people from the lower social status can commit these crimes too. An example of white collar crime is money laundering. A person must learn this sort of crime in order to get away with it. This is mainly committed by respectable business men, their motive for doing this is too improve their organisation.
In conclusion these both theories explain that society aims to achieve the American dream but we all choose different ways of achieving these goals. Sutherland and Merton suggest why people engage in crime and deviance. Sutherland suggests we learn everything therefore criminal behaviour is learnt as well. This theory focuses on who the offender engages with and what social factor could’ve contributed to the criminal behaviour whereas the strain theory explains deviance as the outcome of social strains. These two theories can be used to explain youth crime the differential association. Therefore, there are many advantages for both the theories but the strain theory has more power to it as it can be used to explain the strains of the society which may influence people to engage in criminal activities. This theory can be used to help the government tackle youth crime and improv the social structure within the society for example: better jobs, youth clubs and better education opportunities.